The Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants have one of the oldest rivalries in Major League Baseball. The series dates back to the 1905 World Series when the A’s, then located in Philadelphia, and the Giants, then located in New York, faced off in the Fall Classic, which the Giants won 4 games to 1. The A’s would get the better of the Giants in the 1911 and 1913 World Series.
Both clubs eventually found their way to California as the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957 and the A’s to Oakland in 1968 after a 13 years in Kansas City prior. The teams met in the 1989 World Series, a series the A’s won 4 games to 0 but was marred by the Loma Prieta Earthquake which occurred just prior to Game 3 of the series. Every year since 1997, the clubs have met in Interleague play, with Oakland holding a slight 47-45 edge in those matchups.
But the battle between these teams may soon switch to the courtrooms rather than the baseball diamond. The A’s currently play in O.co Coliseum, a multi-purpose stadium that is also the home to Oakland Raiders of the NFL. Opened in 1966, the “Coliseum” is the only venue to be the full-time host of an MLB and NFL team. The Athletics’ lease at O.co expires after the 2013 season, and with poor sight lines and the fifth-oldest venue in baseball, the A’s are looking for a new home.
Enter San Jose, the third-largest city in California and one of the fastest growing cities (translation: money piling up) in the country over the past two decades. Downtown San Jose is located 40 miles from downtown Oakland, and 35 miles from O.co Coliseum. As the home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, the city has proven the ability to host a major sports team and grow the A’s fan base.
And that’s precisely the problem. The Giants claim San Jose and Silicon Valley as part of their MLB territorial rights, which designates what areas of the country belong to which teams (used primarily for determining which teams are shown on local TV in certain areas). According to the Giants, their territorial rights extend from San Francisco as far south as Monterey County. These rights, which were loosely agreed upon by the club’s owners over 20 years ago based upon the Giants possible relocation further south that never occurred, have led to a painful and “excruciating” deliberation process for the A’s.
In 2009, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee to study the implications for both the A’s and Giants if the move to San Jose were completed by the Athletics. Over three years later, the committee has yet to come forward with any resolution.
It is understandable why the Giants would be hesitant to the A’s moving to San Jose. The Giants have undoubtedly built up a fan base in this area, and a new team moving to the area would cause some fans to switch allegiances to the Athletics, and that means fewer ticket sales, merchandise sales and fewer dollars. At the same time, The A’s are struggling in Oakland, with the second-lowest payroll in baseball and a run-down stadium not helping matters. Having a franchise in such poor economic shape is not good for baseball.
The decision for the Athletics to move would have to be approved by Selig, but the real sticking point is the territorial rights. That would have to be determined by a 75 percent vote from MLB owners in order to be overturned. Of course Selig has his hands in this as well, given his close relationship with the league’s 30 ownership groups. ESPN likened the entire situation to a game of chicken, asking who will blink first among Selig, the A’s, Giants and San Jose.
What’s worse is that this seems to be the tip of the iceberg. If the Athletics are eventually given permission to enter San Jose, it would not be a stretch to suggest the Giants would pursue a lawsuit against the A’s, Major League Baseball, San Jose, or any combination. Just what Major League Baseball wants, more days in court.
Baseball’s problem is not a unique one. In the NFL, the Jets and Giants share the New York market. In the NBA, the Knicks and Nets will now share New York, similar to the way the Lakers and Clippers share Los Angeles. The NHL has three teams — the Rangers, Islanders and Devils — within the New York market, while the Ducks and Kings are only 30 miles apart between L.A. and Anaheim. Even within MLB, New York (Yankees and Mets), Chicago (White Sox and Cubs) and Los Angeles (Dodgers and Angels) are shared by two teams. To see a league struggle so mightily over market sharing is incredible.
The Athletics and Giants are sure to battle on the diamond for the next decade. But the real battles appear as though they will happen before a judge.
Photo (cc) by Tim Wilson and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.